Air Pollution in Cambodia – Causes, Effects, Overview

Although officially called the Kingdom of Cambodia, Cambodia is also referred to as Kampuchea. It is situated in Southeast Asia’s southern region of the Indochina peninsula. Its land boundaries are shared by Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Its Gulf of Thailand shoreline is another feature.

Known for the architecture of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat, Cambodia is a sovereign state with a population of approximately 15.5 million as of 2019. However, the country is becoming more and more susceptible to air pollution.

Air Pollution in Cambodia – An Overview

Based on World Health Organization (WHO) recommended standards, Cambodia had “moderate” quality air at the beginning of 2021. The PM2.5 pollutant concentration was 20.9 µg/m³.

With numbers like these, it’s best to keep windows and doors closed to stop stale air from entering the house, and people who are easily offended should stay indoors until the air quality becomes better. If going outside is inevitable, then wearing a high-quality mask is advised.

The capital city of Phnom Penh had “moderate” quality air for 11 months out of the year, with values ranging from 12.1 to 35.4 µg/m³, according to data from 2019.

The quality only improved in August, when it registered as “good” with a reading of 10.2 µg/m³. The quality of the air is deteriorating a little bit over time. It was 20.8 µg/m³ in 2017, 20.1 µg/m³ in 2018, and 21.1 µg/m³ in 2019.

The World Health Organization establishes an average annual PM2.5 level of 10 µg/m³ as the standard for air quality. In 2016, the level of air pollution in Cambodia was 26 µg/m³. At 51 µg/m³, Cambodia’s numbers are better than the world average.

Causes of Air Pollution in Cambodia

  • Transportation Sector
  • Factories and Industries
  • Household Products
  • Electricity Generation
  • Forest and Waste Burning
  • Textile Industry

1. Transportation Sector

Tuk-tuks that run on gasoline can be found all around Cambodia, but they are bad for the ecology.

This is because the carbon dioxide that these tuk-tuks emit during operation enters the atmosphere and causes air pollution, which can make breathing challenging. Lung cancer and asthma are among the illnesses it causes.

There is also more air pollution in the environment because every family owns one or two gasoline-powered vehicles.

Individuals choose to drive themselves because it is more convenient; however, this negatively impacts the air by producing air pollution, which in turn has an impact on human health.

Because the majority of cars and motorcycles in Phnom Penh are imported from the USA, where they are considered to be outdated and surplus to needs, air pollution in the city might be concentrated and cannot be avoided.

There is currently an issue with the city’s fast-growing car and motorcycle population as well as the regular traffic backups caused by congestion.

Older cars and motorbikes with outdated equipment and catalytic converters typically emit more pollutants in this concentration than modern models.

Furthermore, some illegal traffickers still bring in low-grade gasoline with high concentrations of sulfur, lead, and other hydrocarbons that are prohibited by law and limited by national norms.

In Phnom Penh, there are a lot of cars, which pollute the surrounding area. Many of them are dated motorcycles and cargo trucks that emit smoke while they pass through the city.

When the engine of a modern motorcycle detects that forward motion has stopped, power is switched off. By doing this, the engine is kept from being idle while you wait for the traffic lights to change. stopping air pollution as a result.

2. Factories and Industries

Industries have a reputation for releasing harmful chemicals into the atmosphere, such as sulfur dioxide, which can lead to illnesses and air pollution.

The nation of Cambodia is not highly industrialized. Clothing and related goods are produced at the majority of its factories. The other industries include light industries like food and drink, textiles, wood goods, rubber production, and non-metallic mineral products.

Generally speaking, the majority of factories are found in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. In and around Phnom Penh, there were over 170 factories in operation in 1999.

Since the majority of industries continue to operate with antiquated equipment, they seldom carry out environmental impact assessments, ignore air and environmental pollutants, and use outdated technology.

Thus, one of Phnom Penh’s main environmental issues is thought to be air pollution caused by the industrial sector.

3. Household Products

When used for cooking, household appliances like charcoal stoves generate smoke, which contains damaging greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide that are bad for the environment and people. This results in indoor air pollution.

For cooking, 90% of Cambodians living in rural areas rely on solid fuels like coal and wood. Since they are the ones nearest to the charcoal burner, women and children are the ones most impacted by this kind of air pollution.

When a mother is cooking with her child, you can see that the air pollution from the charcoal burner is affecting both the mother and the youngster. This is not only risky, but it also has the potential to cause pneumonia, lung cancer, and other pulmonary illnesses in addition to the child’s mortality.

The World Health Organization reports that indoor air pollution is responsible for 15% of deaths in Cambodia. Conventional stoves release 2.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide annually, which worsens health issues and accelerates climate change.

4. Electricity Generation

You might be surprised to learn that one of the reasons for air pollution in Cambodia is the production of energy. Well, burning coal is the main source of electricity generation in Cambodia.

Furthermore, it is common knowledge that burning coal to create power releases toxic pollutants into the atmosphere, such as carbon monoxide, which pollutes the air and makes it unfit for human habitation.

Because of the protracted civil war that lasted from 1970 to 1993, Cambodia does not yet have an adequate supply of electricity. Since Cambodia’s electric power supply is typically insufficient to support services, every service sector runs its own generator to keep its operations running.

They frequently place the generator outside, close to their property or the road. As a result, by releasing exhaust fumes into the atmosphere, generators cause a lot of issues for nearby inhabitants and motorists.

5. Forest and Waste Burning

One of the main causes of air pollution in Cambodia is the burning of waste and privately owned forests.

6. Textile Industry

Boilers that burn fuelwood are the primary cause of air pollution in the textile sector. Pollutants such as nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, soot, and particulate matter are released when wood is burned.

Effects of Air Pollution in Cambodia

Globally, toxic fumes killed 6.5 million individuals in 2015 by causing non-communicable diseases such as chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, heart attacks, and strokes.

Particles as thin as human hair or around the size of an imperceptible bacterium are found in large quantities in atmospheric gases like carbon dioxide (NO2) and ozone (O3).

Particulate matter can be found in harmful gases from burning coal in industrial plants and automobile exhaust fumes. Even smoke from a stove or fireplace used for heating in a nation with extremely low temperatures contains particulate matter that can cause lung damage and even death from heart attacks.

Because they cannot afford cleaner fuels, persons with low incomes use less expensive fuels, which release more toxins into the air, making them the most vulnerable to air pollution.

Itchy eyes, nose, and throat, wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, nausea, and upper respiratory infections (bronchitis and pneumonia) are some of the short-term symptoms of exposure to air pollution. Additionally, it makes emphysema and asthma worse.

Lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, persistent respiratory conditions, and the emergence of allergies are long-term consequences. Additionally, linked to heart attacks and strokes is air pollution.

Possible Remedies for Air Pollution in Cambodia

  • The Cambodia Clean Air Plan
  • Renewable Fuel and Clean Energy Production
  • Energy Conservation and Efficiency
  • Eco-Friendly Transportation
  • Green Building
  • Fuel Efficient Stoves
  • Community Forestry
  • Fire Control

1. The Cambodia Clean Air Plan

The Cambodia Clean Air Plan is one strategy Cambodia is using to address the issue of air pollution. A national strategy plan called the Cambodia Clean Air Plan aims to outline actions that Cambodia must take to lower its greenhouse gas emissions.

Important information is included in the publication, such as the state of air quality today and in 2030, the main causes of air pollution, sector-specific laws, and emission reduction strategies.

To enhance air quality and safeguard public health, the plan measures national emissions of pollutants that have an impact on health and implements pollution reduction initiatives.

The Cambodian government’s 2021 Clean Air Plan outlines initiatives to lower greenhouse gas emissions and enhance air quality. The plan includes the nation’s current state of air quality, primary sources, official papers, major emitting sector management programs, and focused mitigation strategies. 

2. Renewable Fuel and Clean Energy Production

The simplest strategy to reduce air pollution is to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources like geothermal, solar, and wind power.

3. Energy Conservation and Efficiency

Clean energy production is essential. Reducing our energy use by utilizing more energy-efficient appliances and forming responsible practices is equally crucial, though.

4. Eco-Friendly Transportation

Air pollution could be decreased by switching to hydrogen and electric vehicles as well as encouraging shared mobility through public transportation and carpooling.

4. Green Building

Green building seeks to design resource- and environmentally-conscious buildings from the planning stage to the demolition stage to increase air quality.

5. Fuel Efficient Stoves

By far the simplest and least expensive approach to reduce the amount of fuelwood you use is to switch to fuel-efficient stoves. Depending on the stove type and usage habits, this type of technology can cut the amount of wood required by 25 to 50%.

Furthermore, some stoves include piped smoke stacks, which can improve family health and reduce indoor pollution. Higher household income and the construction of LPG distribution centers may reduce the long-term need for fuelwood.

It is possible to avoid burning biomass to protect animals by using affordable mosquito nets in addition to mosquito control methods.

6. Community Forestry

To safeguard the rights of its citizens to natural resources, Cambodia established community forests in 1994. Thanks to this program, the community may now actively participate in the development, preservation, and protection of forest resources, improving the quality of the air.

Some of the challenges that have arisen include competing interests over how to manage local woods, the government’s reluctance to grant communities control over resource management, powerful special interests masking local concerns, the cost of management, and a lack of essential support.

Some academics argue that the community forestry framework requires changes to regulations and reforms in industrial forestry. People who live in rural areas have grown to adore this program despite its shortcomings.

As of 2016, community forestry covered 5,066 square kilometers over 21 provinces and 610 communities. Community forests occupy 2.8 percent of Cambodia’s territory, a small portion in comparison to the concessions given to commercial forestry.

The Forestry Department of the Ministry of Agriculture asserts that the government of Cambodia initiated afforestation programs in 1985.

Reforestation of 500–800 hectares per year was the goal, with a target area of 100,000 hectares (1000 km2). 7,500 hectares (7.5 km2) had been planted by 1997, but limited funds prevented more ambitious coverage.

On July 9, Arbor Day, which falls early in the rainy season, people in Cambodia are encouraged to plant trees.

TV and radio stations broadcast educational programs about seeds and soil, while schools and temples support afforestation initiatives.

These steps can contribute to enhancing the overall air quality of Cambodia.

7. Fire Control

Since regulated flames avoid escalation, which worsens the air quality, controlling fires is crucial to lowering air pollution in Cambodia.

This would imply that assisted natural regeneration (ANR) strategies should focus on fighting fires in damaged forests with “high potential” for rapid regrowth.

The project would also provide equipment, employ unemployed youth from the hamlet to act as fire monitors and train locals in fire safety and control techniques. At least five-meter-wide fire lines would be constructed and maintained with project funds.


Other cutting-edge strategies are being explored by various local, international, and Cambodian government organizations. The main goal is for everyone to be able to breathe clean air.


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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

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